Eleven beaches in Hong Kong were closed because of a palm oil (inset) spill. Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Exploringlife, Sea Shepherd Global

Eleven popular beaches in Hong Kong were forced to close and dead fish washed up on the beaches because of a palm-oil spill after two vessels collided in the Pearl River Estuary in mainland Chinese waters last week.

Hung Shing Yeh Beach and Lo So Shing Beach on Lamma Island; Pui O Beach, Upper Cheung Sha Beach, Lower Cheung Sha Beach and Tong Fuk Beach on Lantau Island; and Repulse Bay Beach, Middle Bay Beach, South Bay Beach, Chung Hom Kok Beach and St Stephen’s Beach on southern Hong Kong Island will remain closed until further notice for the sake of safety, according to a press release from the Hong Kong government.

Oil mixed with rubbish was also spotted in Victoria Harbour, Apple Daily reported.

So far, various government departments have collected more than 50 metric tons of palm oil recovered from the sea surface and the beaches. But Hong Kong media alleged that the collision had caused a spill of more than 9,000 tons of raw palm oil since August 5.

According to some photos and a video uploaded on social media by Gary Stokes of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, fist-sized balls of palm oil had dispersed in the waters off Lantau Island, and he found fish eating solid lumps of oil in Discovery Bay. Lumps of palm oil were found in Chi Ma Wan fish farms as well.

Stokes said the biggest threat that the palm oil posed was the absorption and growth of bacteria that can be transmitted to children playing at the beach. Dogs can also be infected if they eat on the shoreline, as can marine life.

Matthew Sin, senior environmental affairs manager of Green Power, said palm oil itself was non-toxic, and was commonly found in food packing materials and cosmetics, Oriental Daily reported. However, “non-toxic” doesn’t mean not harmful to the environment and marine life, Sin said.

He added that the palm oil would dissolve under high temperatures, causing the reduction of oxygen absorption by fish in the sea.

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